A Crash Course in Roses
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
In a year that has seen breakthrough releases by Cheryl Wheeler, David Wilcox and Cliff Eberhardt, among others, it's hard to get a new release heard, much less celebrated. But it's time to sit up and take notice of what may very well be the year's most remarkable recording, Catie Curtis' A CRASH COURSE IN ROSES. For the past several years, Catie Curtis has quietly been building up a reputation as a consummate singer and songwriter. Her two previous recordings, TRUTH FROM LIES and the self-titled CATIE CURTIS, have showcased an intuitive lyricist and talented vocalist with a distinctive falsetto break in her voice. Both of these efforts displayed promising signs of an artist on the edge of greatness. A CRASH COURSE IN ROSES delivers on the promise, and then some. Curtis is no longer a little girl living in her parents house, an adolescent trying to come to terms with the world around her, or a young woman dealing with the pain of her first heartbreak. Catie Curtis is a mature woman and artist delivering beautifully rendered songs dealing with the adult theme of trying to hold onto love through great adversity.
As good as the songs are, it is Curtis' voice that captures the heart and mind. It's a soft alto that breaks into a higher range falsetto, and takes our breath away. Curtis wears her emotions on her sleeve; there is nothing hidden or artificial in what she feels, who she is, or how she sings about the things that occupy her. And her uptempo material makes you smile with pleasure and delight like no one else I know.
Opening with the emotionally complex, satisfying Gave Me Love, A CRASH COURSE IN ROSES is off and running. The drums of Billy Conway and the electric guitars of virtuoso Duke Levine drive the melody. Curtis' compelling and poetic lyrics keep you involved - although you can't quite put a finger on the events that precipitated the feelings expressed in the song, you know that the love described here has been difficult, but holds true.
The World Don't Own Me further explores the theme of a love that emerges out of great difficulty. Jimmy Ryan's mandolin adds just the right touch of sweetness here. Curtis' yearning vocals soar and capture the heart.
The CD's newest track, 100 Miles, contains some of the recording's most moving lyrics:
|It's gonna rain, it's gonna pour |
Through sickness and worse can I love you more
You carried me when I fell
Can I carry you, can I love that well.
Wise to the Ways is just one of those songs that blows you away both musically and lyrically. It expresses an almost classic loss of innocence in the face of the harshness of the world outside ourselves. You can almost visualize the stories yet to unfold on the six o'clock news, with all of their blood and violence. Paul Bryan maintains a clear bass line which is picked up by Billy Conway's expertise on the drums. And Duke Levine's guitar keeps things moving. The rhythms are pure pop.
Curtis pushes her hometown to look at the world beyond its narrow boundaries in What's the Matter. Some famous friends, Melissa Ferrick and Jennifer Kimball, provide harmony vocals.
I'll Cover You has an almost mystical sound which expresses the songwriter's devotion to another, referred to as "angel," who is consumed by worry. Jimmy Ryan's mandolin provides a note of sweet poignancy and hope.
Roses is a stunning song. It tells the story of two brothers from Ireland. One makes it to the shores of the U.S., while the other stays behind and becomes a soldier. Wounded in battle, he reflects on who he is, where he is going, and where he will stay. Beautifully crafted and sung with great emotion and care, it's a thing of great beauty. Of course Mary Chapin-Carpenter's accompanying vocal only adds more to the perfection of this tune.
Magnolia Street is the most moving and simply beautiful song I have heard describing the sudden realization that you are in love:
|And I recall, in my sleep, how you changed my life on Magnolia Street |
A dream, but it's true, I am not the same since I met you
And I feel like I'm going home
But not to the one I've known
The CD closes with the touching hidden track which Curtis has identified as Fusco's Song.
If you read the lyrics carefully, you will find the characters described in most of these songs crying or near tears. A CRASH COURSE IN ROSES chronicles a journey through the war zone of love. I know of no one other than Catie Curtis who could make that journey so musically and emotionally satisfying. A CRASH COURSE IN ROSES is that rare kind of undertaking. It is the finest acoustic recording of the year.
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Edited by David N. Pyles (firstname.lastname@example.org)